The Olympics were an L.A.-based act who balanced upbeat and often humorous novelty R&B tunes with songs about popular dances of the day. They formed in Compton, California, in 1956, and originally called them- selves the Challengers.

The original line-up was : Walter Ward (lead, baritone), his cousin Eddie Lewis (tenor), Charles Fizer (baritone) and Walter Hammond (baritone). All three baritones rarely exploited their low range, preferring to sing in shrill high tones. Their first record was credited to Walter Ward and the Challengers ("I Can Tell" on Melatone, a small local indie), in 1958. Then they met Jesse Belvin, who introduced them to talent agent John Criner and his wife, blues singer Effie Smith, whose son, Fred Smith, had co- written a tune called "Western Movies" with a friend named Cliff Goldsmith. "Western Movies" by the renamed Olympics was produced at the home studio of Ted Brinson, a black postman who served as both the sound engineer and bass player on the session. Effie Smith herself played the drums, session man Irving Ashby strummed the guitar and Marcus Banks (who became an honorary fifth member of the group) sat at the piano. Overdubbed with gunshot effects, "Western Movies" was issued on Si Aronson's Demon label and climbed to # 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the summer of 1958. The record also did well on the R&B charts (# 7) and in the UK (on HMV), peaking at # 12. But their second Demon disc, "Dance With the Teacher", reached only # 71 on the pop charts. By then, Charles Fizer had left the group (replaced by bass Melvin King), but he returned in 1959 to replace Walter Hammond.

After a total flop with their third Demon single ("Chicken"), the Olympics moved over - with Fred Smith and Cliff Goldsmith - to Richard Vaughn's Los Angeles-based Arvee label, for which they recorded until 1964, scoring six pop hits in the process. Among them: "Hully Gully"/"Private Eye", "Big Boy Pete" (written and first recorded by Don and Dewey for Specialty), "Shimmy Like Kate" (also a minor hit in the UK) and "Dance By the Light of the Moon". Arvee also released three albums by the Olympics, "Doin' the Hully Gully" (1960), "Dance By the Light of the Moon" and "Party Time" (both 1961), which were collected on one Ace CD (CDCHD 324) in 1991.

After a stint at Tri-Disc, the group signed with the Loma label in 1965 and recorded "Good Lovin'", which stalled at # 81 (pop), but a year later it was remade into a # 1 hit by the Young Rascals on Atlantic. In August 1965 Charles Fizer was killed during the Watts riots in Los Angeles and was replaced by Julius McMichael (aka Mack Starr), the former lead of the Paragons from Brooklyn. The Olympics continued to release singles until 1973, but after a few minor hits on the Mirwood label in 1966, there was no further chart success. Today, the Olympics are still performing. The quartet consists of two original members, Walter Ward and Eddie Lewis, while the other two, William De Vase and Kenneth Sinclair (formerly of the Six Teens) have been with them for over twenty years.

CD: Very Best of the Olympics (Varese Sarabande, 2002). 17 tracks. Further reading : Jay Warner's Billboard book of American singing groups (1992),, page 268-269.

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